Returning to work after a bereavement can be really tough. Here are some tips around taking time off after a loss, and ideas to help you settle back into working life.
Your first day back at work
When you feel ready to return to work, talk to your employer about how they can make it as easy as possible for you. Going in for a coffee or lunch with your manager and/or colleagues before your first day back can help to get the potentially uncomfortable conversations out of the way. Discuss how others can support you, and how you would like difficult moments at work to be managed. For example, would you prefer to be left alone if you get upset, or would you want company? Ask your manager or HR representative for regular catch ups and check-ins to help you settle back in.
When should I go back to work?
There are no set rules for when you should go back to work after a bereavement; it will depend on a lot of personal factors, as well as the rules that your employer sets out for bereavement leave. Work may offer a welcome distraction from your grief, but it can also seem very overwhelming. Make sure that you have an honest conversation with your employer about how you’re feeling, and how they can best support you with your return to work.
If you are struggling to cope with bereavement at any point, see your GP. Feeling depressed and anxious after a loss could count as illness, which entitles you to statutory or occupational sick pay.
Set your own boundaries
When it’s time to go back to work after a bereavement, think through what you need your colleagues and employer to do to support you:
- Do you feel fit to work full time or would you prefer a phased return (i.e. working half days to start with)?
- How do you want others to treat you – would you like your colleagues to express their condolences and ask how you are? Or would you prefer them not to mention your loss, or not to know about it at all? It is completely up to you how much you choose to share with others.
Keep up a routine
Sticking to a regular daily routine, including exercise and regular meals before, during and after work, can really benefit your mental health and give your days some structure while you’re coping with bereavement. Grief can have a huge impact on your ability to concentrate, so having a to-do list that breaks down different tasks at work (and at home) can give you a sense of focus and help you feel more in control as you ease yourself slowly back to work. Asking a close colleague to check any important work could also be helpful – remember it is totally normal at the start for the quality of your work and the amount you can get done in a day to have decreased since your loss.
Looking after yourself
Going back to work after a bereavement can feel overwhelming, so thinking through potential coping strategies can help in case it all suddenly feels too much.
- If you get upset, is there a room you can retreat to, or a kind colleague you can talk to?
- What can you do to avoid getting stressed? For example, block off time in your diary every day to take a break, go for a walk, have lunch, stretch, switch off for a bit
- Think up some standard responses to questions such as: ‘How are you doing?’. That way you won’t be caught off guard and can move the conversation on swiftly if you don’t want to talk about it
With all this in mind, you can feel prepared and ready for your first day back at work after bereavement.